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15th April 2001
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Union Assurance income soars in 2000

Union Assurance Ltd (UAL), the Colombo insurance company, whose net income soared by 42.3 percent to 147.1 million rupees last year from 103.4 million rupees in 1999, says it plans to further exploit opportunities in the life insurance business.

The company in a press release last week gave other financial data for 2000 but did not provide details of the profit or loss figures in the statement. A company spokesperson, when asked for the figures, said post-tax profits for 2000 were 146.3 million rupees.

The statement noted that the Chairman of UAL, Ratna Sivaratnam, commenting on the company's results said "I am very pleased with our excellent performance. We have developed an ideal platform that positions us to make best use of the opportunities that will emerge over the next few years".

One of the areas of strategic focus for UAL is to fully exploit the opportunities available in the Life Insurance Business. During the course of the year, the Company took prudent steps to further strengthen the Life Fund. This has resulted in a re-statement of the profits of previous years. An enormous effort has been made during 2000 to put in place a solid infrastructure to position the Company to achieve profitable growth in Life Business in the future.

All other financial performance indicators showed dramatic improvements year over year. Return on Equity increased from 17.7% to 22.3%, Net Assets increased by 12.8% from Rs. 584.2 million to Rs. 659.2 million and the company's overall Efficiency Ratio (Cost to Income Ratio) decreased from 25.6% to 23.7%, the statement said.

"We have been guided by simple but sensible principles, that is, to build a solid foundation and focus on quality and service not quantity. This has meant developing human resource skills and staying focused on our client needs. We are indeed making outstanding progress with very good results," declared CEO Sarath Wickremanayake.

Total revenue for the year of Rs. 1.72 billion represented a growth of 15.0% from the previous year. This growth is very commendable when considering the intense competition in the insurance industry and the state of the economy. Expenses during this period from all operations of the company grew by only 6.4% to Rs. 407.5 million. The company stated that this very significant achievement in containing costs was as a result of the entire UAL team working smarter.

UAL surpassed two milestones in 2000; both the gross premium earned from the General Insurance Business and the value of the Life Fund exceeded the Rs. 1 billion mark.

UAL Board of Directors are: R. Sivaratnam (Chairman) H. Selvanathan (Deputy Chairman), V. Lintotawela (Director), H.A. Rehmanjee (Director), R.E.V. Casie Chetty (Alt. Director), D.C.R. Gunawardena (Alt. Director), A.D. Gunawardena (Alt. Director).


SriLankan Catering Services strikes deal with trade unions

SriLankan Catering (Private) Limited, formally known as AirLanka Catering Services Limited entered into a Collective Agreement with the Main Trade Union, Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya, for a period of three years commencing 29th March 2001.

On behalf of the management, Mr.Dilip Nijhawan, the Chief Executive Officer and S. Ubayasiri, Personnel & Administration Manager, signed the Agreement. Leslie Devendra, the General Secretary of the parent Union, L. Gunasena and Mr. B.B Randeniya, President and the Secretary of the Branch Union, signed the Agreement on behalf of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya at the Auditorium of the Employers' Federation of Ceylon. This occasion was graced by Mr. Sunil Dissanayake, Head of Human Resources of SriLankan Airlines, Mr. Ravi Pieris, Deputy Director General of The Employers' Federation of Ceylon, Mr. Ranjith Hettiarachchi, the Secretary of the State Corporations and Private Sector Enterprises of the Sri Lanka Nidahas Sevaka Sangamaya.

The salient point of the Collective Agreement is the 30% salary increase to all the permanent employees with arrears of wages for one year effective from 1st April 2000. Among enhanced benefits, the employees have been extended free air tickets, on the same basis extended to employees of SriLankan Airlines Limited.

Both management and the trade union leadership expressed their desire to maintain industrial harmony through peaceful co-existence. Further, both parties assured that every endeavour would be made to resolve any dispute which may occur during the tenure of the Collective Agreement amicably through consultations and consensus, SriLanka Airlines said in a press release.

Business Today, the Sri Lankan business magazine, for the fifth successive year has selected the top 10 blue chip companies through an analysis of their financial performance for the year 1999/2000. 

The 10 companies are John Keells, NDB., HNB., Commercial Bank, Distilleries Co., Caltex Lubricants, CTC., Nestle's, Hayleys and DFCC Bank.


Chickens do fly

Chicken prices have gone through the roof in the past two weeks due to a combination of factors including rising demand, lower beef consumption and Sinhala and Tamil New Year needs, industry sources said.

The white meat, which was selling at around 120-125 rupees per kg last month, is now being retailed at a minimum of 140 rupees per kg and upwards, with poultry industry experts also expressing concern that prices are too high.

"We need to protect both the producer and the consumer and in the current situation I think retailers are being unfair by the consumer," said Dr. D.D. Wanasinghe, chairman of the All Island Poultry Association (AIPA).

Industry sources said that while farmgate prices were reasonable, retailers including middlemen, big retail firms and supermarkets were keeping a big profit margin.

Chicken consumption has been rising steadily in the past few months following a successive "chicken-eating" promotion campaign by the AIPA and the Mad Cow and Hoof and Mouth scare amongst beefeaters. 


It should be marketing everywhere - Nalin

Taking over responsibilities as the President of the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM), Nalin Attygalle stressed the importance of application of Marketing in wider context of National issues.

"SLIM should get more involved in national issues in order to create more value and towards that the time has come for senior marketing professionals to rally round the institute" he added.

Towards contributing to national issues, SLIM will form a National Issues Round Table (NIRT) consisting of Marketing professionals of distinction and invite other professionals as appropriate. NIRT will identify the thrust areas that needs focus and study related issues and recommend national level strategies that needs implementations.

Those recommendations will be presented to the relevant authorities and will act as catalysts in realising those plans.

Another new initiative SLIM will launch this year is titled "adding new knowledge to the profession." In this regard, SLIM will publish a research agenda inviting research papers from membership on selected subject areas. The topics will be those that are with specific relevance to Sri Lanka and of importance to marketing in general. 

Selected research papers will be published by the Institute and will be shared with the rest of the global community through SLIM's links with the World Marketing Association, Asia Pacific Marketing Federation (APMF) and Chartered Institute of Marketing as well.

Nalin took over as the president from Rienzie Martinesz, who during his tenure as the president focused on maximizing the infrastructure enhancements and organization restructuring commenced the previous year.

Mr. Attygalle, Managing Director - Samurdhi Holdings (Pvt) Ltd., is a Certified Professional Marketer of APMF and has over 25 years of experience in sales/marketing. 

He has been with the Institute for the last twelve years as an active member. During the last eight years he served in the Executive Committee without a break, 

He was an EXCO member for three years, Treasurer for two years, Secretary for one year, and Vice president for two years.


Keells solution for SLT Internet 

Keells Business Systems Ltd (KBSL) recently signed a contract to supply and commission a fully-fledged call center solution for Sri Lanka Telecom amounting to approximately Rs. 20 million. 

The call centre solution from Avaya Communications (formerly the Enterprise Technology divisions of Lucent Technologies) is expected to boost the service levels Sri Lanka Telecom provides its customers. 

Customers calling into SLT will be automatically recognised and their customers profiles (such as name, address, telephone number, account history, complaints made, problems, faced, special needs) will pop-up on SLT customer service agent PC's. The call center agents will be provided with all the necessary tools to support the customer on-line or even escalate to the next level of engineers through workflow applications.

The SLT call centre will be located at the SLT Head Office at Lotus Road in Fort and will be a 24-hour operation. Keells Business System Ltd is the market leader in Sri Lanka for technology driven call center, Video and Telephony solution with over 50 installations. KBSL was also the first to commission a multi-party video solution for the MAS Holdings group when it was first used on the January 1, 2001, connecting to 16 factories and showing 16 locations on a single screen.


Promoting Malaysian investment

Sri Lanka's High Commission in Malaysia is organizing a business and investment seminar in Kuala Lumpur next month to promote investments in Sri Lanka, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce said.

The seminar will be held on May 9. The chamber said in a statement that the seminar would be followed by the Sri Lanka - Malaysia Business Council, an affiliate of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, organizing the second Sri Lanka - Malaysia Business Promotion and Investment fair in Colombo from June 28 to 30.

This is being held in association with the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia, Sri Lanka High Commission in Malaysia and the Malaysian High Commission in Sri Lanka. The main objective of this event is the promotion of trade services, investment, joint ventures and the transfer of technology.


Inflation falls to 13.2 % in March 

Sri Lanka's annual inflation on a point-to-point rate (end March 2000 and end March 2001) - measured by the Colombo Consumers Price Index (CCPI) eased to 13.2% last month from four-year highs of 16.6% in February and 16.2% in January, Asia Stockbrokers said in a report. 

However, the annual average rate of inflation continued to rise sharply to 9.5% in March, up from 8.7% in February and 7.5% in January. Inflation has now averaged 12% in the past six months and a substantial 15.3% in the past quarter, the economists noted.

The easing of the point-to-point rate of inflation in March, compared with the previous couple of months, is attributed to lower food prices mainly rice and sugar. However the overall prices were sharply higher due to increased local and imported food prices following supply constraints due to adverse weather and currency depreciation.

Economists said Inflation is expected to rise in 2001 as the series of price hikes in fuel and utilities and faster currency depreciation take their toll indirectly on food prices, which constitute 62% of the CCPI.


Dutch help for IPS 4th funding programme

The Netherlands government will continue to provide funding support to Sri Lankan thinktank, the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) for the period 2001 to 2004, the IPS said in a press release.

"The extension of the fourth phase of funding by the Netherlands underlines the confidence in the achievements of the IPS and its role in fostering independent debate and discussion on economic policy management in Sri Lanka," it said.

The priority of the institute during the current four-year programme would be to attain financial independence via developing an Endowment Fund to further strengthen its autonomy. The institute has already been partly successful in gaining the support of the donor community towards this end. For its part, the Sri Lankan government has shown its commitment to the IPS by allotting, as counterpart funding, the necessary land for its own building. With the assurance of medium-term financial security from the Netherlands, the IPS will be looking ahead to strengthen its research capacity and build further on its already recognized strengths. 

The IPS, which has been under the Ministry of Finance and Planning since its inception, was brought under the purview of the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and Industrial Development in September 2000. 

The institute was conceived in the mid-1980s as an autonomous institution designed to promote policy-oriented economic research and to strengthen the capacity for medium-term policy analysis in Sri Lanka.


EWIS IT hub of Kandy

The EWIS Career Training Centre - Kandy Branch was declared open by Dr. GL Peiris, Minister of Industrial Development recently. 

lt is the 1st IT hub of the 50 such hubs to be established island-wide under the auspices of BOI, EWIS said in a statement.

The Minister in his speech made special note of the state of the art technology, world-recognized course structures and the IBM trained instructors available at this hub for students who will pursue their IT careers and be world recognized in the future. 

This centre is authorised to provide structured courses from IBM Advance Career Education curriculum, Microsoft's Technical Education Courses and Autodesk Authorised Training courses with international certification.

It also has customised courses and crash courses for office staff and students who have a short break after O/Ls and A/Ls.

The Training Centre is a part of EWIS' objective to maintain a leading position in the IT Industry in Sri Lanka. 

Sanjeeva Wickramanayake, CEO/Managing Director of EWIS said, "as the market leaders we would like to see the Sri Lankan IT industry grow with the availability of IT professionals in the fields of Software development, IT consulting, System Design and Analysis, Project Management, etc. and earn a name as a global supplier in IT related services and products in the new millennium."

As part of their corporate vision to provide total IT services EWIS will provide assistance in job placements for students who have achieved good results. 

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